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Nicaragua Field Lab Report from Peter Giuliano.
I split a week between Finca Pashapa and Finca El Puente (photo set forthcoming!) in November on an early-harvest, relationship-strengthening trip to see two of my favorite farms and families. Honduras has been in the news a lot more often recently than when I began traveling there four years ago, beginning with the ousting of President Mel Zelaya (in his pajamas, as the story goes) in June of 2009, continuing through controversial elections, and an unusual frequency of violence (in particular, against journalists) in the months since then. All of the political instability that makes the news here at home feels completely unrelated to life in the communities of La Labor and Marcala – hours and worlds apart from Tegucigalpa and the world of coffee farming – so I headed south with the same high hopes as always, headlines be damned.
Would you believe me if I told you that everything about these coffees, farms, and relationships just keep getting better? How is that possible? Is it magic? Nope, it's hard work and lots and lots of practice. Take Finca Pashapa, for example, which is a family operation in the fullest sense of the term: the four siblings of the Salazar family, among them "worm guy" Roberto, divide and conquer the day-to-day tasks of the family's farm, from milking cows and collecting eggs to weighing each day's coffee harvest and paying pickers accordingly, while their parents, Coyo and Jorge, preside over the house and keep the operation running. I idealize Finca Pashapa for its long-time commitment to organic certification, its independence from commercial farming inputs (meaning they make all of their farm's compost and fertilizer out of their own materials, like manure), and the integration of the Salazar family, which owns the largest farm in town, with the surrounding community, but they work incredibly hard every day to make my vision a reality.
After this many years (this will be 10 between Counter Culture and Finca Pashapa!), I'm happy to endure Roberto's teasing as I wax poetic about environmental sustainability and beseech him to share his farm's experiences with other growers. I have tried to organize farmer exchanges between Finca Pashapa and Finca Mauritania, and between Finca Pashapa and Finca Esperanza Verde because I believe that the Salazar family's model for organic production embodies real sustainability – environmental, social, and fiscal – better than any farm I have seen and that is an incredibly valuable example to share! But, as I mentioned before, that success comes at the price of hard work, which means that Roberto is a busy guy. Almost impossibly busy, I would say, between the family's farm, the mill he runs, and the cooperative he manages.
One evening, sitting outside his office and waiting for him to finish another 14-hour day of work, I decided that he's like that friend who never returns your calls, EVER, but yet somehow always makes you feel, whenever you're together, that you are still the one who benefits more from the relationship. I have learned so much from Roberto's observations on everything from co-operatives to compost to cupping protocol over these past few years that I would be a fool not to wait, no matter how many hours.
On that note, I hope you enjoy the photo set's brief glimpse at some of the most interesting farms – and people – I know!
Coffee from Brazil has always been an anomaly at Counter Culture. Since I started here, we have never featured a coffee from Brazil as a traditional brewed offering. Only twice have we featured a Brazilian coffee as a Single-Origin Espresso. While we know great coffees can come out of Brazil, it has always been a rare find. The lackluster growing altitude, averaging probably around 1,000 meters, combined with a greater focus on a rustic natural or pulp natural process, has for the most part made these coffees more appropriate for a mild, sweet espresso base. Over the last year or so though, I have tasted some very impressive naturals and a few pulp natural offerings that have made us wonder exactly what is possible. If you remember, in particular, the last Brazil single-origin espresso offering from Fazenda Santa Rita, the sweetness and clarity it had for natural processed Brazil really made us to visit to try to figure out these coffees a little bit more.
When I arrived in Belo Horizonte, I immediately hit the road Northwest to Patrocinio, where the majority of the producers we work with are located. Within a short distance of driving (and seeing the rows and rows of coffee along the hillsides), I realized that Brazil is not only an anomaly for the origins that Counter Cultures sources from, it is an anomaly in the way coffee is done altogether. While certain areas have similarities to how coffee is picked and processed in other parts of South and Central America, much of Brazilian coffee is produced in a highly organized and mechanized fashion. Farms here can often times produce more than 100,000 pounds of coffee – and some produce well into the multi-millions of pounds. Coffee many times is picked by machine, and the real art of quality is in the separation. The green cherry needs to be separated from the ripe, the ripe needs to be separated from the already dry, and all the levels in between.
When I actually arrived In Patrocinio, I was greeted by a bunch of producers whom I knew of from tasting coffees this past year and realized that they were all friends. I also got to meet Ernesto and Edinelson Fornaro, the producers of Fazenda Santa Rita. Over the next few days, I spent a lot of time at farms and realized that, although Brazil is like no other producing country, the producers here are just as passionate about quality and farming practices as anywhere else in the world. I tasted great microlots and talked about advanced processing techniques with many of the producers. The producers here are very receptive, and, in certain cases, even more willing to try something new. Overall, as I bounced around the country my eyes were constantly opened, and I learned a ton about the coffee here. I could go on and on about how this place shattered my concept of coffee production and how great the people I met were, but like my last report, I will let the photos tell the rest of the story. Visit the Counter Culture flickr site for the full set of photos from this trip.
Check out our other flickr sets for photos from coffee-related events, farm visits, and more.